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Can I cut down a Boundary Tree that is right on the property line?

Posted Friday, October 18, 2013 by Christopher L. Thayer

alt textAs a general rule, you cannot cut down trees or vegetation on another person’s property without their express permission. If you do so, Washington has two separate statutes that can impose significant damages in a civil action: Trespass and the so-called “Timber Trespass” statute. The Timber Trespass statute can impose damages for the cost of replacing the tree, plus treble damages and an award of attorney’s fees. For trees that are growing on your neighbor’s property but branches are intruding onto your property, you have the right to prune back any branches that are on your property, though care must be taken not to materially adversely affect the tree.

A trickier question arises where a tree grows more or less right on the property line, such that some of the tree is on your neighbor’s property and some on your property. These are referred to as “boundary” trees and there is a Washington case right on point: Happy Bunch v. Grandview North (2007). The court held that “[a] tree, standing directly upon the line between adjoining owners, so that the line passes through it, is the common property of both parties, whether marked or not; and the trespass will lie if one cuts and destroys it without the consent of the other.” Thus, if a tree straddles the property line it is owned jointly by both landowners and it cannot be cut down without both parties’ consent.

This is another example of the value of good neighbor relations. Disputes with neighbors, whether over the removal of trees, disputed boundary lines, improper fence location or other issues can quickly spiral into expensive and heated disputes. I routinely handle various real estate related neighbor disputes and one of the first pieces of advice I almost always give is to try to work the matter out by compromise first. Even when you have the winning legal argument, the person will still be your neighbor and protracted litigation, even if it resolves the legal issues, tends to entrench hard feelings and make an already tense relationship all the more challenging.

For more information contact, Pivotal Law Group, PLLC today.

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